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What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs accompany their owners to volunteer in settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehab facilities, mental health institutions, schools, hospitals, cancer centers, hospice facilities, and college campuses …just to name a few! No matter what the setting, therapy dogs and their handlers work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

It is important to note that therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks that a person cannot perform on their own. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs have special privileges in public places such as on planes, in stores, and in restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access as service dogs.

How Did Some of My Dogs Become a Therapy Dog?

Not every dog has the right temperament for therapy dog work. Once I determined that the dog has good manners, and would react positively to being touched by strangers, I began the process of becoming a member of a therapy dog organization and started the testing process.

I registered my therapy dogs through Alliance of Therapy Dogs by doing the following:

  1. Read over the brochure that included information about becoming a member of ATD
  2. Completed the required background check.
  3. Downloaded, printed, and completed all necessary paperwork
    • paper work is updated annually. The current link can be found on this page.
  4. Used the link on the website to find a Tester/Observer (T/O) in my area.
    • The T/O tested me on the ATD rules and regulations.
    • The T/O did a temperament test on my dog to make sure that they have good manners and react positively to being touched by strangers.
    • The T/O monitored me and my dog during three visits to facilities where my dog and I had to successfully interact with strangers in therapy-like settings. During these supervised visits, the T/O instructed me and gave me advice and guidance while observing me and my dog in action.
  5. Once my dog and I passed all parts of the test, I submitted the membership fee and necessary paperwork to ATD

Which Dogs Make Good Therapy Dogs?

ANY breed can be a therapy dog! To become a therapy dog, a dog must:

  • be at least one-year-old
  • have a calm and gentle disposition
  • be good around other dogs
  • be calm when strangers pet them all over, and must not jump on others
  • walk on a leash without pulling
  • remain confident and calm around strange noises, smells, and medical equipment
  • be able to follow basic commands and listen to their handler

General Benefits of a Therapy Dog

  • Brings joy to others
  • Takes a person’s mind off of problems, pains and worries
  • Prompts people to open up and share their emotions
  • Encourages people to communicate with others
  • Lowers stress levels and blood pressure
  • Rekindles memories of past pets

Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Schools

Therapy dogs have countless benefits to offer to students of all ages! The following information is from the ATD website:

  • Socio-Emotional Benefits
    • One of the most significant impacts that therapy dogs can make in the classroom is students’ socio-emotional development.  Besides their training, therapy dogs bring their lovable and loving characteristics.  These friendly companions are good listeners and offer great companionship and an audience to children without making any judgments.
    • Students can bond readily with therapy dogs, feeling more connected and confident.  Studies show that this helps reduce negative behavior in children.  Spending time with dogs also helps improve children’s mental well-being.  There is intense pressure on children in school environments.  Therapy dogs help children learn social skills, preventing social isolation.
    • Interaction with therapy dogs has also been found to cause a social catalyst effect, and this further helps improve the stimulation of social behavior.  The relationships between the dogs and students help develop trust in children, and such children are also more likely to develop a broader capacity for empathy.
  • Cognitive Benefits
    • Besides positively impacting children’s emotional well-being, therapy dogs also contribute to cognitive development.  Some of the key benefits of interacting with therapy dogs are as follows:
      • Improved reading skills
      • Enhanced executive-functioning skills
      • Stimulating memory and problem-solving skills
      • Studies show that the very presence in an educational environment tends to improve the areas of attention, concentration, relaxation, and motivation.  This helps in reducing stress levels that would otherwise affect proper learning.
  • Relevant Research Studies
    • According to a 2019 National Institute of Health study, the presence of a dog in a classroom can help promote a positive mood.  The study also recorded the notable anti-stress effects on the body of students.
    • Another University of California study involving canine reading programs made another exciting discovery.  Students participating in a program experienced their reading fluency increasing by 12% to 30%.


I’d be glad to help if I can! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions or concerns you may have.

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